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Policy for the Real World

Policy analysis comes in many forms, but in all of them, the goal is the development of a policy based on evidence that supports the objectives of the organization. Often, the subject matter experts are removed from the policy analysts in regulatory affairs. This often leads to situations where program areas seek to amend regulations without a clear articulable understanding of the purpose or the potential impacts.

In the policy paper template we use, the first question on the first page is:

In one sentence answer the following question “What real-world problem are you trying to solve?”

This question is so important because the difficulty of summarizing the problem in one sentence is inversely related to how much thought you’ve put into problem definition. In my experience, a well-articulated problem and objective are the single-biggest indicators of a program area that is ready to begin the regulatory process.

Regulatory amendments can only operate within the existing legislative framework and political environment. While many situations do necessitate regulatory change, more do not. During the intake and research process, after problem definition, nothing is more important that a complete review and understanding of all non-regulatory options that could achieve the same objective. Examples of common non-regulatory options:

  • Administrative alternatives under the current legislative framework;
  • Performance or incentive-based regulation;
  • Self-regulation ;
  • Market-based Instruments; and
  • Information and Education.

The regulatory process is long and relatively complex. Before undertaking a regulatory change, it’s important to be sure that the alternatives have been thoroughly considered. When regulatory options are chosen, there should be a clear rationale as to how it is superior to the non-regulatory initiatives. Oftentimes taking a less ‘command and control’ approach to regulating a sector can yield less stakeholder opposition and more collaboration between the program area and their stakeholders. Finally, most non-regulatory options are considerably less resource-expensive to implement, for both the Government and the regulated sector.

As a policy analyst in the regulatory affairs sector, one would think that I’d be the first one to see a regulatory solution to a policy problem. Instead, I spend the initial phase of intake trying to convince my colleagues to exhaustively consider all the alternatives before proceeding with regulations.

This has additional benefits of ensuring the most cost-effective solution that maximizes net benefits, ideally to the Government as well as stakeholders. As stewards of the public purse, civil servants have a duty to ensure that Government funds are used in the most effective way to achieve policy outcomes for Canada and Canadians.

Finally, the investigation of the core of the problem and all of the alternative solutions provides decision-makers with a significantly better data about impacts. It assists with the Triage Statement and RIAS development phases because everyone has reviewed, analyzed, and documented all of the policy options and their respective effects.

As a regulator, it may seem counterintuitive that I always start by ensuring my clients can convince me that regulating is the best way to achieve their objectives. That’s why all of my regulatory consultations begin with question “In one sentence tell me ‘what is the real-world problem that you are trying to solve?'”

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